Kelly Smith backs Great Britain’s decision to take knee at Olympics

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Kelly Smith has condemned the “vile” racist abuse suffered by England players after the Euro 2020 final and says it is the “right thing” that taking the knee will continue with Great Britain at the Olympics.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka received abuse on social media following Sunday’s final at Wembley in which they each failed to convert spot-kicks as England lost their penalty shoot-out to Italy.

Former England forward Smith told the PA news agency: “It was upsetting that we lost the final, but there is absolutely no need for the vile stuff that came through to those three players who gave everything, who laid everything on the line. They didn’t deserve any of that, no-one does.

Bukayo Saka (pictured), Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford received racist abuse online after the Euro 2020 final (Mike Egerton/PA).
Bukayo Saka (pictured), Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford received racist abuse online after the Euro 2020 final (Mike Egerton/PA).

“I just thought, it’s so easy for these (people sending abusive posts)…There’s only a minority of them, I think you saw from the support they (the players) got after the Euros, with the mural (of Rashford in Withington that was defaced before being covered in supportive notes).

“That just gave me goosebumps, because you could see the love the nation had for the England team and especially those three players. For me they are heroes.”

England players made the anti-racism gesture of taking a knee before matches throughout the Euros, and on Thursday it was announced that the GB women’s football team will be doing the same at the Tokyo Olympics, which start next week.

That was following a clarification from the International Olympic Committee that such gestures were permitted on the field of play prior to the start of competition.

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Smith said: “I think it’s the right thing to do, to continue it, to still keep raising awareness and keeping it in the forefront of people’s minds, that it’s about equality and stopping racism.

“It’s a big, world event, another platform for players to show everyone stands together, so I’m really happy with that (news).”

Smith, who was part of GB’s squad at the London 2012 Olympics, took a knee herself before playing in the 2020 Soccer Aid for UNICEF match at Old Trafford.

And the 42-year-old added with regard to the gesture: “It doesn’t matter your skin colour, anything, it’s everyone being united together. I’m very much for it and try to give as much support as possible.”

Hege Riise’s GB side are scheduled to begin their Tokyo campaign by facing Chile next Wednesday, before taking on Japan and then Canada in their other group games.

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Smith said: “It’s going to be very tough for them, the competition is very high. If they can get a little bit of a run going, then I think they can medal, with the quality they have in the squad.

“I’m not going to say gold, silver or bronze – any medal would be good. But I would love to see them in the final and win it, because it would do wonders for the game over here.

“With the new (Women’s Super League) TV deal coming (next season)…These players are already household names and if they can medal and then are on BBC and Sky, it will just take everything to the next level again.

Smith is set to return to action in Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2020 in September (Soccer Aid for UNICEF).
Smith is set to return to action in Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2020 in September (Soccer Aid for UNICEF).

“After the buzz and the euphoria that we’ve had with the Euros, I really hope the GB women’s team can galvanize the country again.”

Smith, scorer of a record 46 goals for England Women and 125 for Arsenal, is set to feature once again in Soccer Aid for UNICEF when the 2021 edition takes place at the Etihad Stadium in September.

“I’m excited,” Smith said. “I’m really glad to be back again, this time hopefully (with) near to a sell-out stadium. I just want as many people to buy tickets to help raise as much money as possible.”

:: Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2021 takes place on Saturday September 4 at the Etihad Stadium. The money raised from this year’s game will help UNICEF fight back against the Covid-19 pandemic by helping to deliver two billion vaccines worldwide. Tickets are available at: www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets

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